(slightly modified to address something I forgot earlier)
Miss Constance Kopp, who once hid behind a tree near her home in Wyckoff, N.J., for five hours waiting to get a shot at a gang of Black Handers who had annoyed her, is now a Deputy Sheriff of Bergen County, N.J., and a terror to evildoers. — New York Press, December 20, 1915
The novel’s epigraph tells you pretty much everything you need to know. In the previous book, Girl Waits with Gun, Constance goes to extremes to protect her family from criminals, now she’s moved on to being an official “terror to evildoers.”
Constance begins the novel as a Deputy Sheriff, but political pressure removes her (temporarily she’s assured) and she’s demoted to matron of the women’s jail. She’d been serving in that capacity anyway, but now that’s all she does. She notes, and is probably on to something, that the police are far more willing to arrest women knowing there;s a matron at the jail to watch over them than they were when it was just men. That’s probably not the kind of women’s equality that people hoped for, but I guess you take what you can get. During this time, Constance makes a horrible blunder — one that jeopardizes her career as well as that of Sheriff Heath.
Bound and determined to keep her job (and for her friend and boss to keep his), as well as to see justice done, Constance ignores orders, protocol and (what some would consider) good sense and sets off to correct her error. Doing so will take her out of her comfort zone and into a long investigation that will remind her just what kind of evil lurks in the hearts of men.
Reading about Constance — and some of the professional women she meets in NYC — reminds me of the book I recently read about Nelly Bly and the efforts of female journalists to be taken seriously, and given the opportunities to do more than society page work. Another female law enforcement officer that Constance meets in the opening pages isn’t allowed to do much at all in her role — far less than Constance can (and does). Now this other woman seems content in that, even scandalized at Constance manhandling a suspect, but that doesn’t change the fact that times are changing, and it’s determined women like Constance and Nelly Bly that are going to make them change.
The friendship — and mutual respect — between Constance and Sheriff Heath continues to bloom, and be misunderstood by everyone (with the possible exception of Norma) from Mrs. Heath to juvenile delinquents. But really, there are no romantic sparks (and I expect Stewart will keep things that way — as did history, it seems). I do wish that more people in Bergen County — particularly some of her coworkers (even just one) — most people outside of her home (see especially almost everyone in New York) seem to be encouraging/accepting of a female Deputy.
Norma and Fleurette aren’t as important to the progress of the plot in the sequel — Norma’s stubborn, no-nonsense streak keeps Constance moving when she needs it. Fleurette’s naïveté and desire for a different life fuel Constance’s desire to make the world a better place — at least their corner of it — and to keep the money rolling in. Watching the Sheriff Heath interact with these ladies is a hoot.
I’m not sure it stacks up to its predecessor as a novel — it’s not as deep, the story’s really straightforward, and you might argue the ending is a bit rushed. But, it’s a whole lot more fun to read. Having established the world so effectively in the first book, Stewart can just let her characters live in it. This is a solid crime novel, elevated by the historical circumstances and actual history that undergirds it. Stewart really won me over with this one, I hope we have many more installments to come.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.